Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Anodyne on Taiping Hou Kui from TeaSpring

One of my favorite China green teas over the years has been Taiping Hou Kui. Something about the elusive fragrance so impressed me that I once dreamed about it and woke up just sure I was smelling this tea. It's one of the rare times a tea aroma entered my dreams, though I have dreamed about tea in other more prosaic ways. Once in dream, I was just reading and reciting a list of Darjeeling gardens over and over. TeaSpring offers this '07 spring Cha Wang (Tea King) as their "highest grade...only the finest and perfectly crafted leaves" being selected. Their website says that it comes from Hou Keng village, "at the foothill of Tai Ping county" in An Hui province. They note that the tea is also known as "Tea King Monkey Chief, Tea King Monkey King, and Tea King Monkey tea."

I have had it in times past from assorted vendors. It has been at least good and other times much more ethereal and seductive. In the Taiping Hou Kui I've most loved, there has been a distinct sweet-floral note I've referred to as orchid (for lack of knowing what else to call it) that shape-shifts in and out. Some Taiping Hou Kui has been more savory (even brothy) and less ethereal. Other Taiping Hou Kui has been more nutty or nutty-vegetal with a light lemony note, and etc. In the Taiping Hou Kui I've most loved, the floral sweetness lingered almost silkily on the palate. This current tea isn't falling out to be the absolute best of what memory pulls forth, but it shows some level of that floral note that caresses the palate. The floral shows up in the aroma as well, especially as the leaves are still steeping.

The appearance of the leaf is such a pleasure. Huge flat leaves with criss-cross pattern. In the Cha Wang, they are especially long and even and lovely. TeaSpring notes that the crafting of the leaves is such that they can be stacked one of top of another, and the point out the reddish color apparent on the stems--a characteristic of this tea. It is not easy to find a vessel to brew the leaf. I opted for a taller glass cup rather than trying to get them into a gaiwan and risk breaking them. The leaves were too lovely.

The time I was most impressed by this tea was in 1998, when I had a Private Reserve grade of David Lee Hoffman's Silk Road Teas Taiping Hou Kui. I made the following notes: Delicate, ethereal aroma...light floral on top of vegetal. The cup itself is very pale, quite mellow, and faintly sweet...the water seems to have almost had a magic wand waved over it as it becomes very silky in the mouth. It is a refreshing green, light, almost with a hint of lemon on the tip of the tongue. Delicate. Exquisite. Requires your full attention. Then on another brewing of this same tea: This time around I at least doubled the amount of tea that produced the results in my post above. Today's cup was still quite pale, but the aroma was so much more intense--definitely hints of floral and spice with an underlying richer savory quality. Instead of the aroma being something you had to search for, it wafted right out of the cup. Still delicate. Still exquisite. But this time the aroma demanded your attention rather than waiting for you to make the first move in leaning over the cup to sniff.

As noted, I have had Taiping Hou Kui when it's been satisfying but less exquisite, too--more savory and brothy and aggressive with much less of that ethereal sweetness that turns the liquor almost silky. I'm not sure exactly where I place this current '07 one. Certainly it's more ethereal (and with lemony nip) and more like the Private Reserve SRT one than some of the more savory or brothy ones I've had. This one falls out in the nutty-vegetal range more than truly savory or brothy as I define that for myself. But I am not sure exactly where I'd place the level of that silky sweetness along with some of the best I've had. The memory plays tricks. Along with the Bard, I also sometimes "sigh the lack of many a thing I sought."

In May of '05 I had a Taiping Hou Kui via TeaSpring, too, with the following observations: This Teaspring Tai Ping Hou Kui avoids that heavier savory/broth note I've had in one previous lot via SpecialTeas (though from notes, I see that a different lot I had from this source was more brothy while another focused more on the floral). It seems more akin to the 1998 Silk Road Teas Private Reserve'Tai Ping Hou Kui, focusing more on the floral notes with mellow vegetal sweetness. I am only working with fading memory, but I seem to remember a more piercing nectar sweetness in the Taiping Hou Kui from Silk Road Teas. The sweetness in this TeaSpring tea is softer, more vegetal-sweet, and less nectar-y. But this is a much less rustic interpretation of the tea than I've had from some sources, in which I'd noted an almost bacony savory note. This particular tea is soft, yet with a full penetrating aroma. Again, this is a tea I rather want to associate with the term nutty, but it is the vegetal-nutty or asparagus/vegetal I am thinking of, not the toasted-nutty quality. This is another tea where you really need to get enough leaf in the cup to get the full aroma/flavor. I really am enjoying the aroma of this one especially...back to spending as much time sniffing the cup as I sip...and spending time with the empty cup aroma as well.

With this '07 Taiping Hou Kui, just as with the tea in '05 from TeaSpring, I want to again compare this one with that ultimate 1998 SRT Private Reserve and say that the level of sweetness in this current offering isn't at the level of that one. Again, yes, the sweetness attaches more to vegetal in this '07 one and less to nectary-floral-sweet as in that amazing Private Reserve SRT Taiping Hou Kui. But maybe it's only that memory thing. Each season, an order of Taiping Hou Kui has been very much a pleasure at whatever level I've enjoyed or experienced it. But there does seem to be a certain balance that works its magic in the deepest way--a blend of light savory with a mellow vegetal rescued by lemony nip and an infusion of a piercing floral-sweetness that lingers on the palate like silk on the skin.

Is the precise detail of the 1998 Private Reserve Taiping Hou Kui only imaginary? I am not so sure it really matters. Perhaps it is as shadowy as the dream I once had about the aroma of this tea. As poet Mary Oliver notes in "The Plum Trees" (as collected in American Primitive):

"...there's nothing
so sensible as sensual inundation. Joy

is a taste before
it's anything else, and the body

can lounge for hours devouring
the important moments."

Source: http://www.teaspring.com/

Holly L. Hatfield-Busk

The 'Constant Tea Meeting': MarshalN on Blogging about Tea

[[EDITOR'S NOTE:When MarshalN, who writes the justly popular Tea Addict's Journal at xanga.com, sent an earlier version of this piece to me as a private email, I asked if he would elaborate his thoughts a bit more for us to publish here at CHA DAO. He graciously agreed, and the result is as follows. I think it strikes close to the very heart of why we all spend so much time writing and reading blogs about tea -- or, for that matter, about whatever other passions inspire us.]]

It's been almost a year and half since I started my blog. Initially I had no idea how many people would read it. I figured that if I get 10 readers a day, I would be doing well, since according to some study the average blog is visited by 7 unique visitors every day. While my blog has certainly exceeded that expectation, the fact remains that it is merely a small project, comprising mostly of notes for myself and observations I have gathered along the way.

During this time, however, the blogosphere has blossomed. When I first started, only four of the links on the blog existed -- Babelcarp, CHA DAO, La Galette de Thé, and the LiveJournal Puerh Community. The rest, as far as I am aware, were still in gestation. Now any visit to any of these sites will bring you to even more blogs and journals out there, composed by dedicated tea drinkers like you and me. Just keeping up the reading would mean visiting a dozen or so blogs every week, at least.

Visiting these blogs in quick succession, one will get the impression that most of the blogs on tea are devoted to reviewing specific teas. In fact, many blogs do basically nothing but review teas. Is what we're doing merely tea reviews, tea reviews, and more tea reviews?

Is there a value for this, or is it mostly old news, uninteresting because of the relative lack of experience on the bloggers' part in drinking tea compared to some grand tea masters out there? After all, my sister has likened the reading of my blog to reading knitting patterns for people who don't knit -- it's really rather boring stuff. Why bother?

I think what's beneath the surface of the blogs is what makes some of us come back, day after day, blogging about the rather mundane topic of "what tea we drank today" or "what we found." It is the exchange of information, the interaction, and the joy in knowing that somebody else is interested in the same thing with the same keen interest that you do that keeps us interested in maintaining our respective blogs. I believe this is partly because of an acute lack of a culture of gongfu tea drinking in much of the blogging community's own locale. When I was in Beijing there was always a ready-made group of tea drinkers who could share my interest in person, going out to a tea store or a teahouse to share a cup of our favourite beverage. But in much of the English-speaking community, from which most tea bloggers are drawn, oftentimes the only person who drinks tea seriously whom the blogger knows is the blogger him/herself. What the blogs, and the exchanges that take place both on and off sites, serve are the same needs that a tea drinker in China wants from a visit to a teahouse or teashop -- an interaction with somebody else who is passionate about tea. (French blogs, curiously, have a very high "comment" rate unmatched in the English community -- I've always wondered why.)

Online interactions also turn into real life interactions. The LA Tea Drinkers were formed, I think, from exchanges online and now meet regularly in person for drinking sessions. There's an active group of drinkers in New York centered around the Tea Gallery, and though they do not blog, by and large (except for Toki, from time to time), others from other blogs or websites have found them through the internet. For a little while, a few of us in the Boston area tried our best to get together to drink some tea. The same has happened in the UK, and is going on in Hungary soon. Drinkers in Asia are luckier, but even then, on forums such as Sanzui, a large section is devoted to tea drinkers from various cities trying to organize tea tastings, sometimes on a weekly basis. In Beijing, for example, there's a dedicated group of them who get together every so often, trying everything from white to black teas. All of these groupings consist of people who, by and large, would never have met in real life were it not for their love of tea -- and their online activities which revealed themselves to each other.

These groupings remain small, however, and even in China, there are many cities where one sees users post something along the lines of "I'm the only person I know in the city who really likes tea -- anybody else???" with nary a reply. The internet in general, and personal blogs in particular, become our outlet for the need for such exchanges. When we review the same tea, or teas of similar genre, or even drinking something random, we're exchanging views in what is sort of a constant tea meeting. Photos and videos enhance that experience, but at the end of the day, I think it is the exchange of information and views that constitute the raison d'etre of the blogs out there. I, for one, have met many new friends both online and offline through my writing, and now I can count at least a dozen places where I have gotten to know new tea friends because one day in 2006, I decided to start keeping my tea notes online in a blog format. I'm sure I will only meet more in the future.

I think nobody is claiming any of this information in the blogs to be necessarily new, accurate, or thought-provoking in and of themselves; however mundane and knitting-pattern-like, they serve a purpose that is only possible thanks to the democratisation of the internet experience -- as an ongoing virtual tea gathering of like-minded individuals, each sharing their little slice of knowledge learned while drinking this marvelous beverage.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Geraldo on Cha Tou

[[EDITOR'S NOTE: Because Geraldo mentioned Cha Tou in his previous tasting notes on Cha Gao, I thought it might be illuminating for our readers to have him discourse on Cha Tou as well. Hence these tasting notes on the latter.]]

About two months ago, I encountered a type of pu’er new to my experience. At least four websites offer it for sale now:

Yunnan Sourcing, L.L.C.
China Gifts

Yunnan Sourcing, L.L.C. offers this definition for Cha Tou:
Cha Tou is a type of compressed nugget that is the by-product of fermenting Pu-erh tea. At the end of the 40+ day fermentation process (where the Pu-erh tea is fermented unto itself), the tea is fed into a wind-blowing sorter that sorts the tea according to its size (grade). The cha tou is found near the bottom of the pile of Pu-erh and is formed as a result of heat and relatively high compression.

Lao Cha Tou translates roughly to: old tea nugget. Menghai tea factory used 2, 3 and 4 year old "cha tou" and compressed them into a brick. The resulting flavor is smooth and never bitter, with a fair amount of sweetness. This tea can be infused many times but requires the hottest water possible.
TeaSpring defines it this way:
During cooked Pu-erh oxidation process (known as Wo Tui in Chinese), some of the tea leaves will attach to one another and takes a nugget shape form as a result of heat and high compression. These nuggets are called Lao Cha Tou (i.e. Old Tea Nugget). This Menghai brick tea is compressed using Lao Cha Tou which are of 2 to 4 years of age. The fully oxidized tea leaves yield cups of full-bodied tea with a smooth and thick mouthfeel. Good for many infusions.
TuochaTea provides this description:
Cha Tou is a unique Pu-erh. In order to convert sun-dried green tea into ripened Pu-erh tea, a technique called "wodui" processing method is adopted (mixing the pile to ensure fermentation). At the end of the fermentation process, the tea is converted into a wind-blowing appearance. Pu-erh Cha Tou is found near the bottom of the pile of Pu-erh and is formed as a result of heat and relatively high compression, it is a type of Pu-erh tea nugget.
China Gifts sells several varieties of “Tea Block,” which calls to mind, of course, zhuan cha (rectangular) or fang cha (square) bricks of compressed pu’er. Among the varieties are YouLe, NanNuo, and BangWei. China Gifts does not identify its tea block as Cha Tou, but having seen the strikingly similar images of their products, I compared China Gifts’s YouLe Tea Block and TouchaTea’s Cha Tou in a careful, cup-to-cup session. I can attest that they are virtually identical in dry-leaf appearance, liquor, aroma, flavor, and wet-leaf appearance. China Gifts provides this description of its product:
The pu erh tea Block is made from compressing Wild Ancient tea leaves into a small block. Traditionally, the compression of tea into tea blocks is for storage on long voyages by land. Each small tea block is not regular and about 3-8 grams each block, The Pu-Erh tea block has a bright red colour with a rich flagrance and a mellow and refreshing flavour. An after-taste is later developed.
Thus, a quick survey of the dozen pu’er vending websites I often peruse turns up four vendors selling two types of Cha Tou. TeaSpring and Yunnan Sourcing, L.L.C. sell 2006 Menghai Dayi Lao Cha Tou zhuan cha, while TuochaTea.com and China Gifts sell the 2006 lozenge-shaped variety.

Today I compared these two types in a cup-to-cup session, choosing the offerings from Tea Spring and Touchatea.com. Since this was a comparison, I attended carefully to the parameters and procedures.

~~~~~~~~ · ~~~~~~~~

Session Notes

Tea Spring’s Product:
Menghai Lao Cha Tou
Dayi Brand, Menghai Tea Factory
Produced 2006 using 2yo-4yo leaves

TuochaTea.com’s Product:
Kunming Guyi Company http://www.ybtea.com/
Pu-erh Cha Tou
Harvested in Menghai area
Produced 2006

Vessels and Parameters:
1.5g dry leaf in matching 100ml glazed gaiwans
Clear Turkish tea glasses
Water heated to old man boil
Three quick rinses
Infusion times: 15s, 10s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 30s, etc., ten infusions

Dry-Leaf Appearance

TuochaTea.com’s Kunming Guyi product, like China Gifts’s Tea Block, comes in lozenge-shaped chunks (more apt than “blocks”), and most weigh between half a gram and three grams. The pieces are tightly compacted and multi-colored, having in them red and brown with a predominance of gray. The Menghai product, broken from a zhuancha, resembles dried, black raisins pressed together. The size of the Menghai chunks is overall somewhat smaller and their color is noticeably darker. In the image below, the Menghai Lao Cha Tou is on the left, and the Kunming Guyi Cha Tou is on the right.

Wet-Leaf Appearance

The spent leaves of Kunming Guyi Cha Tou are less friable than the Menghai Cha Tou’s. The leaves are somewhat more intact and green than the darker, less-intact Menghai Cha Tou. The Kunming Guyi product resembles wet-storaged sheng, and the Menghai Cha Tou resembles wet-storaged shu. Once again, in the image following, the Menghai Cha Tou is on the left, and the Kunming Cha Tou is on the right:

Liquor Appearance

In the early infusions, the two products were extremely similar: light amber with the Kunming Guyi Cha Tou liquor appearing somewhat cloudy and the Menghai Cha Tou liquor showing bright clarity. In later infusions, the Menghai liquor became much darker—akin to a dark ale, and the Kunming Guyi Cha Tou became clear.


In early infusions, the Menghai product evinced little aroma, and the Kunming Guyi product was redolent of fish. In later infusions, the Menghai Cha Tou carried a woody aroma, and the fish aroma in the Kunming Guyi Cha Tou subsided.


Through the fourth infusions, both teas were somewhat weak. This genre apparently is slow to catch fire in the session. The early steeps of the Kunming Guyi Cha Tou did taste as though it had been stored near the seafood in a grocery store. In later infusions (five through ten) both improved markedly. The Menghai really came into its own—creamy, sweet, rich, woody. The Kunming Guyi became progressively stronger, tasting very much like wet-storaged sheng.

~~~~~~~~ · ~~~~~~~~

Some pu’er products are more out there on the fringe than others. Like Cha Gao, Cha Tou is not a tea for connoisseurs or investors hunting for the ultimate in sophisticated and complex aroma and nuances. My Asian friends tell me that Cha Tou is a by-product traditionally consumed to quench thirst because it was inexpensive. But Menghai’s Dayi Lao Cha Tou is not at all inexpensive. Tea Spring’s zhuancha costs a whopping seventeen dollars per one-hundred grams. TuochaTea.com’s Kunming Guyi Cha Tou, by contrast, costs only $2.80 per one-hundred grams. Is the Menghai product six times better? Well, it is, in my opinion, a better tasting beverage. The products from China Gifts and Tuocha.com are almost indistinguishable, but they are not at all similar to Menghai’s Lao Cha Tou.

These days I tend to rate teas based upon my appetite for them. If I am hungry for a particular tea and almost without thinking reach for it as I prepare to brew, then it is, under my current operational definition, a very good tea. I cannot say that I will often reach for either of these Cha Tou pu’ers, but I can say that I am very glad to have tried them and compared them for two important reasons. First, when I read references to Cha Tou, I want to hook it up to my own first-hand experience. Second, as an inveterate enthusiast, I’m naturally drawn to tea and tea genres that are new. Today I heard about a pu’er syrup, and I shall think about it as I fall asleep…

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Geraldo on Cha Gao

[[From an email to corax. Published here by permission of the author.]]

I want to leave no tea-stone unturned. This enthusiasm has led me to try every manner of loose and compressed tea that I have been able to source—every hei cha, sheng, shu, loose-leaf tea—red, green, white, and black. Only a few teas have I heartily disliked, and for the most part, those teas had spoiled.

One recent new specimen on my life-list is Cha Tou, both bricked and in small clumps. Some people consider it a nasty by-product only, but I can attest that the better Cha Tou is quite good. Another new addition to the list is Cha Gao, a rather vitrified and very powerful pu’er extract. Like Cha Tou, Cha Gao might be a product outside the usual purview for pu’er enthusiasts. When I saw it advertised, I bought it instantly—despite that many online-forum posters who had never tasted it were lining up to express their dislike of it.

Tea: Cha Gao
Producer: Lin Cang, Yunnan Province
Vendor: TeaSpring (www.teaspring.com)
Shape: Rectangular brick
Weight: 111g
Amount Brewed: 1.5
Vessel: Glazed 4oz gaiwan
Steeping Time: 30 seconds repeatedly
Water Temperature: Full boil

Appearance Pre-Brewing: I expected the Cha Gao brick to be soft, pasty, or even syrupy. This brick upon first inspection very much resembles a squared piece of dry roofing tar. But while cutting it, I noted that it has the consistency of peanut brittle. It tends to shatter as I place pressure on it with a knife’s edge.

Appearance During Brew: The liquor in the glass gong dao bei is red-black with good clarity. As it begins to dissolve, the chunk in bottom of the gaiwan quickly assumes the appearance and consistency of a piece of caramel in a glass of water. This pu’er extract is not comprised of leaves. Prior to infusion, it is more akin to petrified pine sap. During the many infusions, it becomes somewhat viscous.

Aroma: Typical shu with a little burnt rubber tossed into the bouquet.

Taste: Sweet and bitter. Malt, molasses, salt, smoke, rubber. The flavor is consistent with low-grade pu’er to which has been added the rubber and salt nuances.

Infusions: After more than a dozen thirty-second infusions, I gave up. The tea chunk dissolves very gradually. Virtually no change of flavor or aroma from one infusion to the next. Advice: Use a small vessel unless you enjoy feeling like an over-inflated water balloon.

~~~~~~~~ · ~~~~~~~~

As an enthusiast, I cannot resist trying novel products in the world of pu’er. I’m glad I tried this and can add it to my life-list of pu’er experiences. This product is likely to linger in my shu box. I’ll not be rushing to my computer to mash the “Buy More Cha Gao” button any time soon. But in fairness, we must remember this product’s original purpose. At TeaSpring’s website, we find this description:
Cha Gao, or Pu-erh Tea Paste in English, was first produced in the Tang Dynasty. This very special and rare tea can be found recorded in ancient Chinese Medicine books for its properties to aid digestion and helps one sober up from alcohol. In 1950, Yunnan Tea Company was commissioned to process 1750 kilograms of Cha Gao for the Chinese army entering Tibet. It is believed that Cha Gao provided the Chinese army with the daily nutrient and fiber input, which were scarce in the high mountains in Tibet.

Cha Gao is made using Pu-erh tea leaves. One kilogram of tea leaves can only produce around 200 to 250 grams of Cha Gao. Some Yixing Zisha pot collectors are known to use Cha Gao to season their tea pots, claiming that the paste is more effective than natural brewed tea leaves.
For me, then, consuming Cha Gao is like consuming military rations. Were I backpacking in the mountains and concerned about the weight and bulk of my camping gear, this product might find its way into my mess kit. Further, the caffeine seems to be quite strong. And finally, while one hundred grams may seem pricey, consider the amount of tea it will make: at least eight hundred cups.

I’m also wondering if consumers have traditionally used Cha Gao for making milk tea. If so, this product could be quite palatable in steamed milk with sugar.

Tea folk searching for a sophisticated, aristocratic pu’er might want to pass this one by, but those of my ilk yearning to sample all that tea can offer should try it. I did not purchase an entire brick: A fellow tea-adventurer joined me on this purchase, and when the brick arrived, I sent his half on to him in California. Thus, we both gleaned all the fun of exploring new horizons without paying the entire cost.

Final thoughts: If there are no leaves, then is this pu’er? And if Cha Gao is not pu’er, is it fair to make a comparison?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Meng Hai Tea Factory: A Very Short History


[[EDITOR'S NOTE: This history was originally posted to teemann.blogspot.com on 23 March 2006. It is republished here with the author's permission.]]

1938 – The China government assigned Zheng Hechun (郑鹤春) and Feng Shaoqiu (冯绍裘), two employees of the China Tea Corporation (中国茶业公司), to Yunnan to map its economical potential as a tea producing region.

1940 – Fo Hai Experimental Tea Factory (佛海实验茶厂) was established under the management of Mr Fan Hejun (范和均).

1941, August – The basic production line was completed, and the experimental 1st batch of Fo Hai Tea Factory Dian Hong (black/red tea) was produced.

1942 – The start of the Pacific war forced the closure of the factory under the orders of the head office, and all its employees relocated to Kunming. The employees managed to complete the construction of the rest of the factory within a week before leaving for Kunming, but had to take down the machine room lest the Japanese find use for it as a power source. In the oral records, according to Mr Fan, Fo Hai Tea Factory could not produce tea on a large scale at the time. Its major role was to act as guarantor to the small tea farms and makers in Yunnan, to assist them in the final stage of the production, and to help with export documentations. During that time, they managed to export 78 crates of Yunnan green tea to India, and 56 crates to Myanmar. The factory also exported a shipment of pu’er to Siam.

1944 – Fo Hai Tea Factory resumed business, only to close again after a year. During this time, the factory produced only Dian Hong.

1952 – Fo Hai Tea Factory resumed business once more, and produced the famous Label brands (印级) under the unified Zhong Cha tea brand (中茶牌); the first batch was the Red Label. Green Label replaced the rest of the label colours in the late 1950s.

1953 – The autonomous state of Xishuangbanna was established. Fo Hai Tea Factory changed its name to Meng Hai Tea Factory (勐海茶厂).

1973 – Both Kunming and Menghai Tea Factories managed to successfully create cooked pu’er, and produced their first cooked pu’er brick teas. The ones produced by Menghai Tea Factory are known as “73 Thick Brick,” or “Later Period Cultural Revolution Brick.” These bricks were overly cooked, and have lost their pu’er qualities, yet they remain a favourite among pu’er lovers.

1976 – CNNP (China Tushu) urged all three factories: Kunming, Menghai and Xiaguan to increase their production of cooked pu’er, and assigned identification codes to the factories. Menghai Tea Factory’s production code would be “2.”

1976-1979 – Menghai Tea Factory’s main export product was loose leaf pu’er; of the compressed cakes there were only two: 7452 and 7572 (both cooked pu’er).

1979 – Export demand for Menghai Tea Factory increased, with more blends appearing in the market: 7542, 7532, 7582, etc.

1981 – Menghai Tea Factory accepted its first private consignment (through CNNP) from Hongkong’s An Li Tea Company (安利茶行), and produced the 7572 raw pu’er cakes – the only one that is different from the cooked version.

1985 – Menghai Tea Factory made the first production of 8582 pu’er raw cakes for Hongkong’s Nan Tian Tea Trading Company (南天贸易公司), through CNNP.

1988 – The Dayi brand (大益牌) of Menghai Tea Factory made its first appearance, on tea bricks:

1989, 20th June – Dayi brand became the registered brand under Menghai Tea Factory, which began major export production of pu’er tea.

1994 – Menghai Tea Factory produced the Dayi brand compressed bingcha, and the factory began preparations to go private.

1996 – Menghai Tea Factory privatized, and the Xishuangbanna Menghai Tea Industry Co. Ltd was established (西双版纳勐海茶业有责任公司).

1999 – The factories were allowed to deal directly with tea traders (i.e. without the mediation of CNNP).

2004, 25th October – The Bowin company (博文投资有限公司) bought out Menghai Tea Factory and Xishuangbanna Menghai Industry Co., Ltd.

Flavor Hedonics: Pleasure and the Physiology of Taste

'Have some wine,' the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.
Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. 'I don't see any wine,' she remarked.
'There isn't any,' said the March Hare.

Ever since Brillat-Savarin, at least, the phrase 'physiology of taste' has given double pleasure to those who savor the joys both of the palate and of the intellect. So I owe a debt of thanks to my learned colleague Monkeytoe for alerting me to the publication, at slate.com, of a three-part essay by Mike Steinberger entitled 'The Physiology of the Wine Critic.' (These posts are available at:
http://www.slate.com/id/2168762/ [part 1],
http://www.slate.com/id/2168768/ [part 2], and
http://www.slate.com/id/2168868/ [part 3].)

Now those who know me well, and/or have heard me hold forth on the issue, will know how strenuously opposed I am to the facile and frequent comparison between wine and tea: phrases like 'tea sommelier,' for example, irritate me immensely. The reason is that it implicitly -- or indeed explicitly -- places tea in a position subordinate to that of wine. (A notable exception to this baleful trend is my esteemed colleague and companion in the blogosphere, Phyll Sheng, whose blog Adventures in Tea and Wine strikes an elegant and judicious balance between the two, evaluating each (as the fancy strikes him) on its own merits -- and combining acuity and elegance in every case. No wonder he has been selected as a contributor to tching.com.)

So it may come as some surprise that I am now referring my readers to this triptych of essays by Steinberger. It is Corax himself, they may crow, that now perpetrates this comparison! In a way, they would be correct. Obliquely so, at least. But, gentle reader, perusal of Steinberger's posts will furnish you with a great deal of information about tasting generally -- and that is of use and interest, no matter what one is tasting.

Steinberger's essay raises a number of very provocative questions, including:
• Is your gustatory experience the same as mine? [The larger question would be: Is your sensory experience the same as mine? E.g., when I see and appreciate a particular red, or blue, do you perceive them, 'get' them, in the same way I do?]
• What is the relation of gustation [taste] to olfaction [smell]?
• What is the relation of both gustation and olfaction to other mental processes [such as expectation]?
• What are the physiological and genetic characteristics of the super-taster [a term coined in 1991 by Dr Linda Bartoshuk, then of the Yale School of Medicine]?
• Is it in fact to one's advantage to be a 'super-taster'?

One is not going to get answers to all of these right away, of course. But Steinberger learned quite a bit on his physiology-of-taste journey. He paid several visits to the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a non-profit independent scientific institute in Philadelphia that focuses its research primarily on the senses of taste and smell. There he met (and underwent some testing by) Dr Charles Wysocki, a psychobiologist who studies individual differences in human olfaction.

At the Monell Center and elsewhere, Steinberger learned, some of it to his surprise, that super-tasters, who account for perhaps 25% of the overall population, [a] have a very low threshold for sweetness, [b] tend to salt their food heavily, [c] 'do not particularly enjoy the flavor of alcohol,' [d] are especially sensitive to both astringency and acidity, [e] tend not to like spicy or fatty foods, and [f] 'tend to find all sorts of vegetables overly bitter.' As he points out, being a super-taster is perhaps no blessing when it comes to wine-tasting.

How about tea-tasting? One will doubtless discern the most minute nuances between one substance and another, but it sounds as though, for the super-taster, there is potential displeasure at every turn. And -- regardless of what other benefits (dietary, spiritual, cultural) one hopes to gain from tea -- don't all tea-drinkers look to tea for the pleasures of aroma and taste? In the case of tea-drinking particularly, one can imagine that the experience might sometimes be especially unpleasant for the super-taster as profiled above: many teas are astringent in quality, and the polyphenols found in tea are themselves acidic. As for bitterness: this brings to mind the West African proverb, 'Tea is bitter, like life.' Many teas have a bitter note (at least) to them, and that indeed is the drawing-card for some drinkers. But for super-tasters, it seems this may be a truly unpleasant aspect of the tea-drinking experience.

But not even super-tasting -- or the palate at all, per se -- are the end of the story here. 'Some people,' says Steinberger, 'are better at judging wines than others, but based on what I've learned, the reasons for this are more likely to be found in the brain than in either the nose or the mouth. (And interestingly, researchers have found that for experienced wine tasters, such as sommeliers, more areas of the brain are activated when tasting than is the case for inexperienced tasters.)' This should really come as no surprise to those who have been learning about the function and power of the human brain; but it is interesting to have some scrutiny focused specifically on 'flavor hedonics,' as Steinberger felicitously terms the study of the pleasures attendant on taste and smell.

One of the most interesting items that Steinberger learned about from Dr Wysocki is the work of Dr Frédéric Brochet, the proprietor of Ampelidae, a winery in the west of France. Brochet is an oenologist by training, not a cognitive psychologist as stated by Steinberger, and his research was awarded the Grand Prix by the Académie Amorim in 2001. Brochet's research refers to (though he did not, as Steinberger thinks, originate) the very useful notion of 'perceptive expectation,' a term apparently coined by one J. Bruner in 1950 (Brochet's online paper does not cite an exact reference for Bruner's work). 'The subject,' writes Brochet, 'perceives, in reality, what he or she has pre-perceived and finds it difficult to back away.'

This has really far-reaching implicataions for tea-drinking -- especially insofar as one tries very hard [a] to concentrate on what it is one is perceiving in one's cup, and [b] to communicate that to others. Even if the answer to 'Do you taste what I taste?' should be a confident 'Yes!,' how can I even be confident about what I myself am tasting? As Steinberger writes,
Brochet has shown that people given a white wine that has been dyed red will describe it exactly as they would a red wine. He has also found that if he serves the same wine in two different bottles, one labeled a cheap vin de table and the other a pricey grand cru, people invariably lavish praise on the latter and scorn the former .... Beyond all this, we know that the nose wields much more influence over our flavor perceptions than the tongue. And beyond all that, we know that our gustatory preferences are determined by a wide variety of factors, most of which have nothing to do with our physiological attributes. The key distinction here is between perceptions and preferences. We may be hard-wired to receive flavor stimuli in a certain way, but that information is immediately relayed to the brain, where it is processed through a variety of filters unrelated to our biological dispositions. Our preferences are formed mostly by experience, expectations, culture, and other intangibles.
At the end of the day, one can simply throw up one's hands in despair, and go have some tea (or not); but (if I may quote the ebullient Eleanor Roosevelt) 'It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.' Put in more specific tea-terms: we can at least do our best to focus thoughtfully on what is in our cup; to enjoy it to the fullest; to ponder (sometimes!) why and how it brings us that enjoyment; and then -- in a gesture toward the essence of shared living, the giving-and-taking of what is dearest and most important to us in this life -- to try and communicate all of that to others, and to consider the fascinating questions of whether and to what extent their experience matches our own.

And that, gentle reader, is why there is CHA DAO.